Aspen councilman wants to regain public trust for Burlingame

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” An Aspen city councilman is calling for an independent audit of the city-built Burlingame Ranch affordable housing ” a project that will cost at least $73 million more in taxpayer money than what voters were told when they approved the development.

In response to recent information that brought to light tens of millions of dollars in discrepancies related to Burlingame, Councilman Dwayne Romero wrote a memo to his colleagues saying he wants “all hands on deck” in their leadership approach to the future of affordable housing.

“Real leadership means we take accountability and responsibility for the organization’s actions (and inaction),” Romero wrote. “We have failed the public on this point … This is a fundamental question of trust and confidence in our city government.”

City officials told voters in a campaign brochure distributed shortly before a May 2005 election that the total cost for Burlingame would be $74.3 million, with the overall taxpayer subsidy being $14.7 million. But now city officials say the total taxpayer subsidy will be $85.5 million ” nearly a six-fold increase.

Phases two and three of Burlingame have yet to be built and city officials plan to ask voters this fall to approve up to $75 million in bonds to finish the development, located across from Buttermilk and tucked behind what’s known as Deer Hill.

“… We have no business asking the public to issue more debt to fund future phases when we cannot logically explain past mistakes, nor we can we articulate a clear, coherent and comprehensive business plan on how we are to complete the final phases of Burlingame without committing the same mistakes,” Romero wrote in the memo.

“Whether this was an issue of deception, disclosure or of competency, the more fundamental concern is the issue of public trust,” Romero continued. “The public deserves full disclosure and explanation of what happened and just as important, it deserves to hear and understand what reforms and controls will be incorporated prior to proceeding with anything at Burlingame …”

Romero, who supports completing the housing development, also suggested in the memo that he wants the City Council to re-examine all assumptions of the Burlingame plan in an effort to come up with new solutions to reduce the costs.

City officials have been scrambling for the past two weeks to try to reconcile the numbers and determine why voters were told it would only cost $74.3 million to build all three phases of Burlingame.

Assistant City Manager Bentley Henderson said last week that the only numbers relevant for comparisons are the final costs of building phase one at Burlingame and not the brochure distributed to voters. He said it was a marketing piece only.

The misinformation and recent statements to the public aren’t sitting well with Romero, who wants to optimize the final plans for Burlingame.

“… I am not ready to accept previous strategies that were developed at the same time as our ‘marketing plans’ that now apparently have no meaning or relevance,” Romero wrote.

Barry Crook, assistant to the city manager, said last week that there was an error in the brochure’s language. That language error accounts for $25.3 million of the massive increase in the total cost of Burlingame. Construction inflation accounts for another $32.9 million and City Council changes to the project account for $11.8 million, according to Crook.

The City Council is expected to discuss the issue Tuesday in the Rio Grande meeting room. The meeting begins at 4 p.m.


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